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Tips for making gift giving less stressful, less expensive and more meaningful

Gift giving can be stressful, but there are ways to minimize the costs and the hassle. (iStock)
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‘Tis the season for gift giving, that annual — sometimes stressful — ritual that can get pretty expensive.

There has been an amazing reader response to a post I wrote last week about how much to spend on holiday gifts, based on who you’re shopping for.

Readers agreed that there are no hard-and-fast rules for gift giving, other than to make sure the gift is meaningful and to stay within your personal budget.

Some people said they skip gift giving altogether, choosing instead to donate to charity or share an experience with the people they care about. Others shared strategies for giving gifts that have low prices tags but high value.

Here are some examples of what readers said they do to minimize hassle and spending during the holidays. The comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity:

Keep the list short.

“During the recession, my family switched to only giving gifts to children and parents (no gifts between cousins and siblings, aunts and uncles, adult nieces and nephews, etc.) It made the holidays so much less stressful and enjoyable that we decided to just keep it that way.”

“Our family gives presents only to children under 18, but the adults usually bring something extra nice (a special wine, gourmet chocolates, etc.) for Christmas dinner.”

Take the guesswork out of the process.

“For family members, I like and use ‘Christmas lists,’ where people hint or outright say what they’d like, even down to colors and sizes. I was raised that way, and it seems very practical to me. It avoids the problem of buying that ‘perfect’ gift, only to find out that the recipient can’t stand it.”

Stick to your budget or skip the gifts altogether.

“My only rule is to never spend to ‘keep up’ with others. Just because my sister can afford to give my Mom a $100 gift doesn’t mean I need to. I give what I can afford, always.”

“Thank you so much for this! As a teacher, it would be impossible to match what my sister (the nurse manager for an entire floor of a hospital) can afford.”

“The best gift you can give those who care about you is being financially responsible — and good friendship.”

“When my mom was in her late 60s she told everyone to stop buying her presents. ‘I have everything I need.’ I still gave her presents though — it felt sad not to. But now that I’m entering my later 60s, I understand! Enough is enough!”

Write a heartfelt note. 

“My daughter and son-in-law are high school and middle school science teachers for children from families with low incomes. They would be appalled if those families used their scarce resources to spend $10 to $25 on them. They would love a handmade card from a student or a note of appreciation from a parent.”

“As a retired teacher, I can tell you that a thank-you note or a holiday card is a lovely gift. Teacher gifts, the ones that have teacher printed on them, are sweet, but they pile up. A few homemade cookies or pieces of homemade candy or something similar are lovely gifts.”

“A few people mentioned the gift of time, perhaps best of all. I retired recently and don’t need or want any more stuff, so I’ll ask my kids to write a little short story of a particularly fond memory they have. I love having these thoughtful little stories to read year round, the best gift of all.”

Share an experience.

“When they were younger I gave my neighbor kids ‘home made’ gift cards for a movie, popcorn, and soda. I took them to the movie and they handed me the gift card back. They were very conscientious about keeping their card so they could ‘redeem’ it.”

“To heck with stressful holidays. Go on a cruise or just leave town.”

Whip something up in the kitchen. 

“If you can’t afford to buy gifts but are a good cook, bake sweet breads, like pumpkin bread and wrap in fancy colored Saran Wrap. You can make the loaves a month in advance and freeze them, so there’s no last minute hustle. Or buy a few small jars at the grocery and fill them with a spiced nut mix you make yourself.”

“My mother used to make pimento cheese spread from scratch and put it in a pretty jar in a (reusable) gift bag with nice crackers.”

Donate to charity instead.

“Most of the people you know don’t need more stuff in their lives: donate to those in need.”

Read more:

How much to spend on holiday gifts, based on who you’re shopping for

Whom to tip — and how much — during the holidays

Hot holiday toys: From Hatchimals to Pokémon Sun and Moon